Big Pharma is America's New
By 2010, much of the over-the-top
Pharma largesse had ended. Not just because the press and Sunshine Act
exposed the huge payments, naming names—but because practically every major
drug company from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Eli Lilly, Abbott, AstraZeneca,
Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson to Amgen, Allergen, Bristol-Myers Squibb,
Cephalon, Novartis and Purdue had settled a wrongdoing suit. Both doctors
and the public largely viewed Pharma's safety and effectiveness claims
as 'bought' by such extravagance.
1) Blue Cross Blue Shield
said that Pfizer jetted 5,000 doctors to Caribbean resorts where they enjoyed
massages, golf and $2,000 honoraria to try to increase prescriptions for
its painkiller Bextra—a
drug that proved so unsafe it was withdrawn from the market in 2005 for
2) The Justice Department
charged that GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) "paid millions to doctors to promote
approved at the time for depression, for off-label uses by funding meetings,
sometimes at lavish resorts" according to CBS News. Off-label uses ignore
FDA approved indications in favor of whatever Pharma wants to say to sell
3) In China, GSK was charged
with being even more brazen—employing a network of 700 middlemen and travel
agencies and sex workers to convince doctors to prescribe its drugs.
4) Johnson & Johnson
wined and dined Texas Medicaid officials, charged state authorities, treating
them to trips, perks and honoraria to get its expensive antipsychotic drug
preferred status on the state formulary where it would be paid for by taxpayers.
Taxpayers were also bilked by the Department of Veterans Affairs expenditure
of $717 million on Risperdal only to discover the drug worked no better
than a placebo.
5) Bristol-Myers Squibb enticed
doctors to prescribe its drugs with access to the Los Angeles Lakers and
luxury box suites for their games, according to California regulators.
6) And, in keeping with the
marketing free-for-all that has hooked so many Americans on opioid
drugs, opioid maker Victory Pharma was charged with treating doctors to
mortgage assistance and… lap dances.
Golf Trips Are Not the Only
Way Pharma Pays Doctors
Doctors may not get to go
to the Caribbean as they once did, but they make a huge amount of money
from Pharma by giving speeches promoting its drugs. The speech-givers,
who sit on Pharma’s speakers' bureaus are considered "key opinion leaders",
capable of convincing other doctors of a drug's benefits so they will then
prescribe the drug.
According to ProPublica,
Sujata Narayan, a family medicine doctor practicing in Stanford, CA earned
an astounding $43.9 million promoting drugs for Pharma. Karen Underwood,
a pediatric critical care doctor in Scottsdale, AZ received a walloping
$28 million. Moreover, hospitals are also awash in Pharma money with the
City Of Hope National Medical Center receiving $361 million and the Cleveland
Clinic Foundation $22 million.
Pharma also pays doctors
to conduct studies of its drugs often paying them for each subject they
recruit and winning their loyalty because they are then familiar with the
drug after monitoring subjects on it. A huge Pfizer trial of the drug Neurontin
was conducted just this way charged Carl Elliot in the New York Times:
772 study investigators were recruited so they would personally prescribe
the drug once they were familiar with it. The study was not conducted to
establish effectiveness and safety and the joke was on them and the public.